Honey’s Dinner at the James Beard House
Doylestown’s Joe and Amy McAtee showcase their talent at the prestigious event
by Brian Freedman

Beyond all the prestige that comes with cooking a dinner at the James Beard House in New York, it is a deeply personal affair. For many chefs, it’s not so much the culmination of a lifetime’s work, but rather a vindication: A James Beard dinner says you’ve made it; it says your impact on the culinary life of America is real and tangible.

I hadn’t realized this before attending the “Pennsylvania Summer Harvest” dinner prepared, presented and flawlessly executed by Joe and Amy McAtee of Doylestown’s Honey last month. As Chef Joe McAtee’s brilliantly conceived courses began their procession into the dining room, and as Amy worked the room, going from table to table telling stories, describing the food and generally charming everyone in attendance, it became clear that this was more than a meal: It was a happening.

The evening started off with the traditional cocktail hour downstairs in the West Village townhouse’s atrium and verdant garden out back, with a California sparkling rosé and our very own Philadelphia Brewing Company’s Fleur de Lehigh. Passed hors d’oeuvres—including a complex puree of summer squash streaked with hot curry oil and a wink-wink blend of foie gras and Philadelphia cream cheese perched atop a bagel chip with strawberry relish and rosemary—set the stage for a meal in which all of Honey’s creativity was on display.

The dining room upstairs is one of those classic New York spaces that manages to split the difference between stately and thoroughly intimate. The flicker of candles, the slightly worn-at-the-edges wood detailing of the space, the knowledge that the house itself had been a center of American culinary life for decades: It all contributed to the feeling that this was hallowed ground.

And the McAtees lived up to it with ease. Seared venison loin with grilled preserved-lemon risotto, a blueberry-balsamic compote, and micro sorrel set the tone, and let the guests—many of whom had never been to Honey, but only heard about it and its reputation—know that this would be an adventure as much as a dinner.
Black olive “soil” and addictive warm feta croutons provided an unexpected twist on an otherwise classic heirloom tomato and cucumber salad. The snap of corn kernels brought a sense of the unexpected to an otherwise velvety Pocono trout tartare. A brilliantly bright and gently acidic beech mushroom and savory summer truffle conserve cut the richness of crispy suckling pig torchon.

Summer melon sorbet provided a sweet, cleansing backdrop for house-smoked duck bacon. Whisky-glazed Pennsylvania lamb ribs and a ragout of braised lamb collar showed both the range of McAtee’s imagination and the firm grounding of his technique. And finally, blueberry-goat cheese ice cream accompanied a grilled lemon corn cake with marcona almond butter, crushed almond praline, and blueberry coulis.

This was an epic meal, each course telling its own unique tale and fitting perfectly into the overarching narrative of the evening, but the real highlight was when Joe and Amy spoke at the end and introduced their parents.

It was a clear reminder that the best food is an expression of the people behind it, and that, no matter how important or prestigious the setting, a memorable meal is about personal connections.

Brian Freedman is a food and wine writer based in
Philadelphia. BrianFreedmanPhiladelphia.com